Back in the day, when BigSister was still trying to come to terms with Rock’n’Roll, MiddleSister had discovered cheesecloth shirts and strange-smelling herbal ciggies, and BabySister (that’s me) had just developed the love for Glam Rock that would see her safely through the angst-ridden teen years, Joe Haldeman wrote a book about the horrors of war. The Forever War is seen as a sci-fi classic. Arising out of Haldeman’s own experiences in the Vietnam War, it won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. 36 years on, Haldeman is still producing stories, so time to see what he’s writing about now in this week’s…
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Sleeping Dogs by Joe Haldeman
“You live a few hundred years, at least on Earth, you slowly leave your native culture behind. You’re an immortal – culturally true if not literally – and your non-immortal friends and family and business associates die off. The longer you live, the deeper you go into the immortal community.”
Flann Spivey has returned to the planet Seca, twenty-nine years after his last visit. These days Spivey is a thanatopic counselor – someone who helps people prepare to die. But not in ways we would think of. In Spivey’s time, methods have been found for rich people to extend their lives almost to the point of immortality. But many find that there comes a point where the attractions of living are not what they were and Spivey helps them to sort out their financial affairs, ensuring some kind of legacy for them when and if they choose to die.
But back when he was last on Seca, Spivey was involved in the Consolidation War and now he’s returned because he wants to remember what happened to him then. On returning to civilian life, soldiers in the war had their memories suppressed, but now there is a drug which will bring those memories back, for anyone rich enough to afford it. Spivey isn’t rich, but one of his clients has given him the trip and the drug out of gratitude and friendship. This is the story of Spivey’s part in the war, and how he lost one of his fingers…
My platoon had begun its work in Console Verde as part of a force of one thousand. When we returned to that oasis, there were barely six hundred of us left. But the country had been “unified”. Where there had been 78 mines, there now was one, Preciosa, and no one wanted to talk about how that happened.
The story is well written, and there’s some good description that brings the setting to life. It was something of a disappointment to me to find that this story is again about the horrors of war – I was hoping to see how he would tackle something different. It may be that it was just bad luck that I chose a story with such a similar theme – if anyone has read more of Haldeman’s output, perhaps you could tell me if he’s written other stories that aren’t war-based? I also found the ending of this one rather fizzled out – the recovered memories weren’t quite as dramatic as the build-up had suggested they might be.
However, there was plenty of imagination on display here, especially on the preparing people to die theme (actually I rather wish he’d expanded that bit and left the rest – I found it much more interesting). And he touched on many themes that are just as relevant to today’s wars – corrupt politicians, mega-corporations putting profit before people, methods of dealing with post-traumatic stress etc. I’d certainly be interested enough to read more of his work, especially if he’s written on other subjects.
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